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The Silk Route - World Travel: Rockefeller Plaza, New York City, New York, USA
americas asia & far east africa & middle east europe

USA: New York City - Midtown
1980s-2015

Times Square Brill Building Rockefeller Center Grand Central Station
Chrysler Building Chanin Building More Art Deco Empire State Building
Rockefeller Center

 

Midtown - the heart of the city, and with more than enough amazing Art Deco buildings to satisfy the biggest fan!

 

 

Times Square

Times Square

 

At the intersection of Broadway and 7th Avenue this once grubby rather sleazy area of the 1980s has cleaned up its act in the intervening decades and is all bright lights and busy entertainment now. In 2015, on a wet afternoon, we went up there to take photographs, hoping for atmospheric reflections.

Times Square
Times Square
Times Square
Times Square
Times Square
The crystal ball which drops down the pole on the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve.

Times Square is named after the New York Times newspaper. It was used as an incentive by August Belmont to persuade the newspaper to move its business to 1 Times Square in 1904. Belmont was building the first subway from Lower Manhattan to the Upper West Side and wanted to attract business along the route.

The move was celebrated with a fireworks party on New Year's Eve which was repeated every year until it was deemed to be unsafe. As a replacement attraction the newspaper installed a huge wood and iron ball which was lowered from the roof of the building - doesn't sound quite so exciting!

Nowadays the ball is a Waterford crystal globe which descends at midnight, the spectacle attracting huge crowds into Times Square every year.

 

Brill Building

Times Square
Times Square
Beautiful metalwork in the entrance porch.
Times Square

 

I am a huge Art Deco fan and try to seek out good examples wherever I go. In NYC this is easy - there are hundreds of them! The Art Deco Society of New York website1 was a godsend in whittling them down to a manageable number and learning more about them.

The 1931 Brill Building is doubly interesting as an icon of twentieth century popular music. Here music businesses ranged from songwriters right through to publicity agents - everything an aspiring musician could need. By the 1960s over 160 music-related businesses had offices here.

I was horrified to learn that the interior of this building is to be ripped out - work was already ongoing while we were there.

The entrance is in gleaming brass and glass surmounted by a ziggurat-style window - a shape typical of Art Deco.

Times Square
Times Square
Times Square

 

Times Square
The elevator dial goes from 1 to penthouse.
Times Square

The exterior doors lead to a porch and a further set of brass and glass doors into the lobby. This is a long narrow hall, its walls lined with massive glass mirrors.

At the end of the hall is an elevator and mail box, both in beautiful Art Deco design. The corridor was blocked here where building work was going on.

Times Square

.

 

Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Plaza Lower Plaza 2015 with 30 Rock behind.
Rockefeller Plaza Prometheus
Prometheus
Gilded cast bronze, Paul Manship.
Rockefeller Plaza
Mankind: Youth
Cast bronze, Paul Manship.

Rockefeller Center occupies a chunk of Manhattan between 5th and 6th Avenues and 48th and 51st Streets. Its 19 buildings include Radio City Music Hall and the iconic 30 Rock otherwise variously known as the RCA, GE and now Comcast Building.

John D. Rockefeller Jr. leased the land from Columbia University in 1928 and initiated the building projects.

Rockefeller Plaza is the centre of the Centre lying east of 30 Rock. Essentially a recreational area the Lower Plaza hosts a cafe/restaurant in summer and the ice rink in winter.

The famous golden sculpture of Prometheus is by Paul Manship, a celebrated American sculptor active throughout the Art Deco period who has several pieces in the plaza.

Rockefeller Plaza Lower Plaza in summer 1984.


Rockefeller Plaza
Mankind: Maiden
Cast bronze, Paul Manship.
Rockefeller Plaza
Lower Plaza at Christmas 1984.
British Empire Building
Rockefeller Plaza
Summer Coolers, Lower Plaza.
Rockefeller Plaza
Channel Gardens, Christmas 1984.

 

On the east side of the Plaza is the Channel Gardens - so-called because they separate La Maison Francaise and the British Empire Building.

The doors of the 1932 British Empire Building are particularly impressive. Nine figures represent the might of British trade - a generic merchant seaman and figures representing salt, wheat, wool, coal, fish, cotton, tobacco and sugar.

 

British Empire Building
British Empire Building
620 Fifth Avenue
Rockefeller Plaza
Wisdom
Lee Lawrie


British Empire Building
British Empire Building
The Arms of England
Lee Lawrie
Three lions passant guardant are from the royal coat of arms of Richard the First of England who reigned in the twelfth century; above the W 50th entrance to the British Empire Building.

 

30 Rock on the west side of the plaza has some of the most beautiful Art Deco designs in the city. Entrances on both Rockefeller Plaza  and 6th Avenue are decorated with colorful mosaics and sculpture.

Sculptures by Lee Lawrie above the Plaza entrance to 30 Rock are as famous as Prometheus, depicting Wisdom, Sound and Light.

 

Rockefeller Plaza
Inside 30 Rock.
Rockefeller Plaza
Subway at 30 Rock on 6th Avenue.
30 Rock
Four Gaston Lachaise sculptures adorn the facade above the Avenue of the Americas entrance to 30 Rock.
30 Rock
Everything about this entrance screams Art Deco.
30 Rock
Detail of mosaic at Avenue of the Americas entrance.
Rockefeller Plaza

Sound & Light
Lee Lawrie
Rockefeller Plaza
Rockefeller Plaza
Inside 30 Rock.

 

Inside 30 Rock the Art Deco continues right through to the opposite entrance on 6th Avenue, known as Avenue of the Americas, with its magnificent mosaics and sculptures.

 

30 Rock
Entrance to 30 Rock on Avenue of the Americas, 2015.
30 Rock


30 Rock
Mosaics at Avenue of the Americas entrance to 30 Rock.
30 Rock
30 Rock
Detail from mosaic at Avenue of the Americas entrance.
radio city music hall
Radio City Music Hall

 

30 Rock
Art Deco Brasserie Ruhlmann
45 Rockefeller Plaza
radio city music hall
St Francis of Assisi with Birds
Lee Lawrie
W 50th St near 5th Ave

 

Radio City Music Hall takes up half a block on Avenue of the Americas between 50th and 51st. I believe the interior is magnificent Art Deco but we haven't yet been inside. On the W 50th wall are three beautiful rondels by Hildreth Meière representing dance, drama and song.

 

radio city music hall
Dance
Hildreth Meière
radio city music hall
Song
Hildreth Meière
radio city music hall
Drama
Hildreth Meière
Rockefeller Plaza

 

Grand Central Station

Grand Central Station
Grand Concourse
Grand Central Station
The vaulted ceiling of the Grand Concourse.


Grand Central Station
Grand Central Station

 

This magnificent Beaux Arts building is one of the gems of architectural New York City. The 19th century Beaux Arts style is neoclassical with lavish embellishments.

Monumental architecture is a basic feature of a Beaux Arts building accompanied by elements such as classical columns, chandeliers and decorative carving.

Grand Central Station

Completed in 1913 it is worth looking into for the enormous Grand Concourse alone: 275 feet long, 120 feet wide and ten storeys high with sweeping staircases at both ends. There are enormous elaborate chandeliers and elegant multi-paned windows - also on a grand scale. The vast vaulted ceiling is completely covered with a mural of starry constellations - as if seen from God's viewpoint!

Grand Central Station

 

The Chrysler Building

Chrysler Building
Chrysler Building
Chrysler Building
Elevator Door
Chrysler Building
US Mail Letter Box

 

My absolute favourite building in New York - the epitome of the more flamboyant Art Deco architecture mixed with a little gothic. Designed by William van Alen for the Chrysler Corporation and built in 1928-30, it was one of the first buildings to incorporate large amounts of steel on its exterior.

 

 

Chrysler Building
2015 from the Empire State Building

 

 

Art Deco features include the spire of the building which resembles the Chrysler radiator grille, the Chrysler eagles extending from four corners, the geometric stepped ziggurat design, Egyptian elements in the lavish interior.

Chrysler Building
Polished steel, wood and marble inside.

 

 

 

The Chrysler was briefly the tallest building in the world until the Empire State was completed the following year.

 

All of the photographs, unless otherwise captioned, were taken in 1984.

 

The Chanin Building

Chanin Building
Chanin Building
Chanin Building
Chanin Building
Chanin Building
Mail box.

Across from the Chrysler, on East 42nd Street, on the corner of Lexington, is another of the greatest Art Deco buildings in New York, especially for its decorative elements: the Chanin Building, architects Sloan & Robertson. Built for Irwin Chanin in 1929 the exterior incorporates bronze, marble and terra cotta. Jacques Delamarre and Renee Chambellan were responsible the glorious architectural and decorative embellishments both inside and out.

All photographs 1984.

Chanin Building


Chanin Building

Chanin Building
Chanin Building


Chanin Building
A shop entrance off the Chanin lobby.


Chanin Building
Chanin Building
Lindy's from the Chanin lobby.

 

More Art Deco

Bryant Park Hotel

Bryant Park Hotel
Bryant Park Hotel

 

Built as the American Radiator Building in 1924 at 40 W 40th St., later renamed the American Standard Building. The striking black and gold exterior is fashioned in a Gothic-influenced Art Deco style.1 Many buildings in the city have fabulous details way above street level - a pair of binoculars would often be useful, or a good telephoto lens! This building is no exception - the top of the tower is particularly attractive.

Bryant Park Hotel
Bryant Park Hotel
Does anyone else see stylised elephants?


Bryant Park Hotel
Bryant Park Hotel
Bryant Park Hotel

General Electric Building

General Electric Building
General Electric Building
St Bartholomew's stands on the corner of Park and 50th, across from the pale brown General Electric Building behind.

 

 

On the corner of Lexington and 51st the GE Building was completed in 1931 and is another Gothic-inspired Art Deco design.

Again the roof of the tower is one of its best features, even more so than the Bryant Park Hotel. More exuberantly Gothic with some wonderful stone carving including four "electrical deities" with rays emanating from their heads, representing the power of radio.1

General Electric Building
General Electric Building

 

Waldorf Astoria Hotel

Waldorf Astoria Hotel
Waldorf Astoria Hotel

The 1931 second home of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on Park Avenue is rather a simple form of Art Deco, even a little cold in its use of the trademark "Waldorf Gray" brick - specially made.2  There are some beautiful elongated metallic reliefs incorporated into the entrance and, common to Art Deco skyscrapers, beautifully embellished elevator doors.

Waldorf Astoria Hotel
Waldorf Astoria Hotel
Waldorf Astoria Hotel
Waldorf Astoria Hotel
Waldorf Astoria Hotel
ELevators
Waldorf Astoria Hotel
Detail on elevator door.

Waldorf Astoria Hotel
This large circular "Wheel of Life" mosaic in the lobby floor depicts life's progress from birth to death.

 

 

The Empire State Building

 

Empire State Building
1984
Empire State
The Empire State Building seen from the Freedom Tower.
Empire State Building

 

Yet another great Art Deco building, named for the state of New York, the Empire State, was completed in 1931 and instantly became the tallest building in the world at 1250 ft; the 200 foot television antennae was added in 1953.1

 

Empire State Building
Classic Art Deco lines, colours and materials at this entrance.

An Art Deco skyscraper of quite austere design but with beautiful long vertical lines and blocks. Its spire was meant to be a docking point for dirigibles but, for many reasons, this idea was abandoned; for one thing it was too dangerous due to the powerful updrafts caused by the building itself and for another dirigibles generally need to be tethered at both ends!

Unless otherwise stated photographs are from 2015.

from Empire State building
Looking north east the Chrysler building is clearly visible with the East River beyond, 1984.

Empire State Building
Looking north east 2015.

 

The interior has some beautiful classic Art Deco embellishments making particularly good use of polished metals.

 

Chrysler Building

Viewing New York from the observatories on the 86th and 102nd floors helps to appreciate the scale of the city. On a good day the whole of Manhattan island is spread out before you. I went up in 1984 and Andrew and I went to both viewing decks in 2015. The upper level, which is enclosed, gives a better view of Central Park but otherwise there's not a great deal to choose between the two.

Empire State Building
Looking north west 2015.




Empire State Building
Central Park from the upper observation level.

In 2015 I took many more photographs than in 1984, especially of the interior, though it was tricky as we were moved through fairly quickly though the guards and ushers were very tolerant!

 

Empire State Building
The entrance lobby.


Empire State Building
Empire State Building
The entrance lobby.






Empire State Building
Empire State Building
Empire State Building

 

Empire State Building
The entrance lobby.

Empire State Building


Empire State Building
Elevator Doors 1984

Empire State Building
Empire State Building
Empire State Building
Same view 2015 - some waterfront development otherwise not too much has changed.
Empire State Building

Images of the building appear as decorative elements. The sunburst also features strongly - a classic Art Deco motif.

Empire State Building



Empire State Building
Looking west 1984: the red awnings of Gimbel's and Macy's, 57-storey One Penn Plaza and, to its left, the edge of the round Madison Square Garden. Across the Hudson River: New Jersey.

from the Empire State building
Looking south towards the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, to the right Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, in the far distance across the harbour mouth is the Verrazano - Narrows Bridge. In the foreground is the distinctive shape of the Flatiron Building at the junction of 5th Avenue and Broadway, 1984.

Empire State Building
Looking south 2015 - the most obvious change is, of course, the Freedom Tower replacing the Twin Towers.
flatiron building
Empire State Building

 

 

References

  1. Art Deco Society of New York
  2. Waldorf Astoria "Wheel of Life" mosaic